Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cheese & Banana Cookie


Ever since starting my 52 week cookie challenge, I’ve slowly tried to introduce typically savory ingredients into my cookies.  The Momofuku Milk Bar corn cookie was a nice starting point.  From there I experimented with cookies that incorporated things like miso, fermented shrimp paste, tomatoes, and sumac.  After my most recent meal at Alinea, I was inspired to make a pea-based cookie which ended up being quite phenomenal.  The pea cookie was actually my favorite cookie I’d made so far.  Then week 33 rolled around and the cheese & banana cookie was born.


A few weeks prior, some coworkers and I were talking about Cheetos.  Naturally the discussion lead to a Cheetos cookie, and a batch was made shortly after.  This cheese & corn cookie based off of the Milk Bar corn cookie ratios was a unanimous winner, although I wouldn’t really call it a Cheetos cookie.  The cheese flavor was subtle, but the aroma was very cheesy.  The flavor was creamy and buttery, and the smell was reminiscent of Cheez-Its.

To take the cheese & corn cookie to the next level I bumped up the amount of cheese and did what I usually do: revert back to childhood.  One of my favorite after school snacks as a child was a banana wrapped in a Kraft single.  The mix between salty and sweet was always a winner, and who doesn’t love Kraft singles?  When you think about it, it’s not that odd of a combination as fruit and cheese are a classic pairing.


For my cheese & banana cookie, I decided to use yet another childhood favorite: Vietnamese dried bananas.  They’re not like banana chips.  Think of them as like sun-dried bananas glazed in honey.  The sun-drying concentrates the banana flavor, which is already pretty amped up due to the fact that ripe apple bananas are used.  I find the banana flavor in apple bananas much more intense than your average banana.


After baking the cookies off, the outer half of the cookie was nice and crunchy, while the center half was perfectly soft and fudgy.  That’s the beauty of the Milk Bar cookie recipes.  A third iteration of the cheese cookie will likely find it’s way into my oven based on a tip I received about adding roasted sweet peppers in addition to the bananas.


Cheese & Banana Cookie

Mise En Place

  1. Follow M.E.P. for the Momofuku Milk Bar corn cookie with the following substitutions and additions
  2. 225 g flour => 265 g flour
  3. 45 g corn flour => 0 g corn flour
  4. 65 g freeze-dried corn powder => 75 g powdered cheese
  5. 3 g baking powder => 1.5 g baking powder
  6. 6 g kosher salt => 8 g kosher salt
  7. 150 g Vietnamese dried banana, diced into 1 cm x 0.5 cm pieces


  1. Follow method for the Momofuku Milk Bar corn cookie with the following additions
  2. After flour, leaveners, and powdered cheese have been mixed, add banana and mix until evenly distributed, no more than 30 seconds

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Alinea: 8-23-12

This was my fifth visit to Alinea, and although the food ranked squarely in the middle of the 5 tours, the overall enjoyment of the meal was probably the best.  That’s not to say the food was average; it was still outstanding.  I think the enjoyment had a lot to do with my mindset going into the meal.  I had no expectations as  I didn’t look at the menu beforehand.  Thanks to the revelatory meal at Schwa, I didn’t take myself too seriously either despite the formal setting.  My main goal was to have great time with the company I was with and I did.  It was the most fun I’ve had at Alinea thus far.

Things started out differently this time.  The entrance carpet was replaced with grass and a fan blew a breeze through the narrow hallway, making wind chimes dance and sing.  At the front of the hallway was a metal tub filled with water.  Floating round and round in the water were glasses filled with the first taste of the night: lemonade.  It had an intense lemon flavor, but it was a bit too sweet for me.  Still, an unexpected and fun start to the night.


STEELHEAD ROE – peach, St. Germain, kinome

Four blocks of ice were placed on the table when we arrived.  From my past meals at Alinea, I figured these would be the table centerpieces and eventually be incorporated into a course near the middle of the meal.


To my surprise, the blocks of ice were used for the very first course.  The glass boba straws were handed to us and we were instructed to place it in the ice and slurp away.  Within the ice was a peach distillation, and within the glass boba straw were the roe and garnishes.  This dish reminded me of the Fruit Loops roe course at Schwa.  Both were fruity, briny, and salty.



I was familiar with the template of the shellfish progression from my last visit, but the presentation this time was more ambitious.  The shellfish sat on top of a piece of driftwood covered in fresh kelp.  The oyster leaf with mignonette and  razor clam with shiso, soy, and daikon seemed to taste the same as last time.  This wasn’t necessarily a good thing, though, as the razor clam again was tough, chewy, and a little too salty.  However, the king crab with passion fruit, heart of palm, and allspice was stellar, as was the lobster with carrot and chamomile .



WOOLLY PIG – fennel, orange, squid

I didn’t get much pork flavor, but the combination of fennel, orange, and squid worked really well.  I’ll be using this combination in my everyday cooking.



TOMATO – watermelon, chili, basil

My hatred of raw tomatoes is well known.  The last time I had a tomato dish at Alinea, I had trouble getting it down.  This tomato dish was one of my favorites of the night and went down quickly and easily.  There wasn’t much of that grassy, vegetal finish to the tomatoes that tomatoes can sometimes have.  Raw celery has a similar, but stronger, finish and it’s the main reason I have a tough time with both.  The tomatoes were very sweet, perhaps even sweeter than the watermelon.  The chili and basil heightened the brightness of the dish.


On the bottom of the dish was tomato ice.  One of my dining companions astutely pointed that it was very much like the tomato ice served at Next: elBulli.  This was when I started to think about the potential crosspollination of techniques and ideas between Alinea, Next, and The Aviary.  Another link between this dish and the tomato ice dish served at Next was that they were both paired with sake.  The pairing was really well done as the muskmelon notes from the sake played really well with the tomato and watermelon.  Perhaps they were also testing sakes for Next: Kyoto.


CORN – huitlacoche, sour cherry, silk

This was corn in many different forms.  The silk was fried.  The husk was charred, combined with fat, and mixed with tapioca maltodextrin to form a “rock.”  The kernels and kernel fungus, aka huitlacoche, were pureed.  Plating was inspired by the artwork found throughout the restaurant.  Although this was a very tasty dish and one of my favorites of the night (I ended up licking the plate), I wish there were actual corn kernels or something to give the dish that satisfying crunch and pop when you chomp down on an ear of corn.



OTORO – thai banana, sea salt, kaffir lime

It took me a minute or 2 to realize they were serving fish in a fish bowl.  The tuna was supposedly some sort of sustainable tuna.  I’m not sure if the provenance of the fish was the main factor, but I’ve had tastier otoro before.  When everything was eaten together, though, it didn’t matter much because it was a really great dish.  I found myself awkwardly tilting the bowl every which way in order to savor every last drop of the kaffir lime sauce.  I don’t know why I didn’t just lift the bowl up and drink the sauce.



CHANTERELLE – ramps, asparagus, smoked date

This dish tasted a lot like the autumn scene dish at Next: Childhood as pointed by my astute dinning companion.  Even the presentation of the food on a plank of charred wood was similar to the autumn scene dish.  The earthy darkness of the mushrooms was deepened by the smoked date and perfectly cut by the sourness of pickled ramps and astringency and bitterness of asparagus.  A standout composition of flavors and one of my favorites of the night.



HOT POTATO – cold potato, black truffle, butter

A classic.  Knowing how legitimately time sensitive this dish is, I refrained from taking a picture.  It was noteworthy that I spilled a bunch of the cold potato soup while pulling the pin, making myself look like a slob in addition to an uncivilized oaf who licks plates.


LAMB – ……..?????……………!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sixty different garnishes were presented for the table to pick and chose.  With a recommendation of 3-4 garnishes per cut of lamb (shank, saddle, loin), you had yourself a “choose your own adventure” dish filled with surprise and intrigue.  That being said, I enjoyed the concept of this dish more than the flavor.  Although I had fun trying more than the recommended 3-4 garnishes per cut of lamb and identifying them, the garnishes boiled down to a handful of disparate flavor profiles: sweet with anise, tart and fruity, herbaceous, bitter and astringent, and nutty.  I found the sweet with anise garnishes to be my favorite.  I thought it worked really well and it was something I’d never had before.  It’ll be something I try with lamb at home.


Again I saw a hint of the crosspollination between restaurants.  Another astute dining companion pointed out one of the garnishes was finely diced mirepoix.  This reminded me of the solid aromatic herb sauce at Next: elBulli.



BLACK TRUFFLE – explosion, romaine, parmesan

Another classic.  Sadly, one of the explosions didn’t really have much of an explosion.



ANJOU PEAR – onion, brie, smoking cinnamon

Like the hot potato / cold potato and black truffle explosion, I’ll never get tired of the tempura on burning stick dish.  I could have eaten about 10 more of these as the flavors were so well balanced.



GINGER – five other flavors

From right to left, the flavors progressed from savory to sweet.  The pins were removable.  I wish they actually told us what each of the five bites were composed of, but I guess it’s my own fault for not asking.  I do have a feeling that one of the bites was galangal and not ginger because it packed a lot of heat.  The spiciness carried over into the start of the next dish.



BLUEBERRY – buttermilk, sorrel, macadamia

The implement for this course was really cool.  On top was a flat surface, in the middle was a hole, and on the bottom was a bowl filled with liquid nitrogen.  The hole was sealed with a glass stopper, causing the dish to rattle from the liquid nitrogen’s steam.  We lifted the stoppers and the servers poured in a sorrel drink, or what I like to call “adult Ecto Cooler.”  Slimer would’ve given his stamp of approval.  I could’ve chugged that stuff all night.  As the juice mixed with the liquid nitrogen, steam billowed out from the hole in the plate.


I would've been completely happy if the food didn’t live up to the adult Ecto Cooler, but it surpassed the tastiness of the green witches’ brew.  The yellow cake in the middle was actually cheese in some form, and when paired with the different preparations of high quality blueberries reminded me of blueberry cheesecake.  This was my favorite dish of the night.



BALLOON – helium, green apple

Building on the theatrics of liquid nitrogen steam, edible balloons were brought to the table.  The string was a very tasty green apple leather.  The flavor of the balloon was like a green apple flavor h-bomb, where in this case the h stands for helium.  It may have surpassed green apple Jolly Ranchers as my favorite green apple sweet.  Making a mess eating the balloon was unavoidable because texture of the balloon was a lot stickier than I imagined.  When I went to bite into the balloon, it popped in my face and got all over my hands, nose, cheeks, and mouth.  Thankfully the server strongly advised me to take off my glasses before going at it.  Sucking in the helium while struggling with sticky apple balloon all over my face and hands was a lot of fun.



WHITE CHOCOLATE – strawberry, english pea, lemon

The mat dessert changed a bit since the last time I was at Alinea.  This time, white chocolate spheres filled with goodies sat on the table.  Then, garnishes and sauces are sprinkled and smeared onto the mat.  The finale comes when liquid nitrogen is poured into the spheres, making them very brittle.  The spheres are then picked up and dropped onto the table, shattering into shards and revealing the goodies.  It was like a fine dining pinata.  The spheres were so brittle, that one of them cracked when lifted.  For a moment I was afraid it would crumble in the chef’s hands.

I don’t enjoy ending a meal on chocolate, so I loved the fact that this rendition was all about fruit.  The quality and intensity of the strawberries was the star here.  I also learned another flavor combination to tuck away in my back pocket.  I can foresee a strawberry, pea, and white chocolate cookie on the horizon.  Overall, it was a great time and a great meal.



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gelonch Restaurant: 9-14-11

When a professional cook suggests restaurants to eat at, you obey.  You obey, and you will eat well.  After disappointing fine dinning experiences in the Basque Country, we ate at mostly tapas places recommended by a cook friend while in Barcelona: Bar Pinotxo, El Quim de la Boqueria, Tapac 24, and Cal Pep.  All were amazing delights in their own special way.  We did end up eating at one fine dining restaurant, though.  Again on the recommendation of our cook friend, we ate at Gelonch Restaurant and had the second best meal of the entire trip to Spain.

Costing 63 Euros for a 12 course tasting menu, Gelonch was easily the best value of any place we ate at in Barcelona.  Every single course was packed with creativity and flavor, which made the fact that we were only 1 of 2 parties served the entire night bewildering.

There would have been a 3rd party in the cozy little restaurant, but after briefly looking at the menu, 2 ladies dressed in posh dresses got up and left.  I felt sorry for the potential diners because they were missing out on really excellent food.  That pity quickly turned into frustration because they refused to give the restaurant a chance.  There was even an a la carte tapas menu for them to test the waters.  I got even more frustrated when I learned that Gelonch does not lay claim to any Michelin stars.  The food we were served at Gelonch was astronomically better than the 3-star Akelarre and definitely better than the world-renowned 2-star Mugaritz.

Not only was Gelonch better than a 3 and 2-star Michelin, but it was better than every 1-star Michelin I’ve ever been to except for Schwa and Blackbird here in Chicago (not counting DiverXO because shortly after dining there they deservedly were awarded their 2nd star).  Interestingly enough, Gelonch felt like the Catalan version of Blackbird: somewhat global flavors rooted in the regional cuisine with a sprinkling of modern techniques when appropriate.  If you’re ever in Barcelona, take the cook’s advice and get yourself to Gelonch.

Strawberry gazpacho with its air



Grilled iberian pancetta, roasted scallop, peanut tabouli, crunchy prawn, and coriander cream

gelonch: scallop & pork


Wagyu beef carpaccio, honey breadcrumbs, beech smoke, grilled rocket leaves

gelonch: wagyua carpaccio


Tuna toro slice on a cracker with olives, cheery tomatoes, and oil foam

gelonch: toro on cracker


Cuttlefish taglierini with deconstructed pesto: parmiggiano whey, basil oil, garlic chips

gelonch: sepia


Quail eggs, grilled baby squid, anemones, asparagus, baked  garlic cream, and chorizo breadcrumbs

gelonch: baby squid & sea anemone


Codfish loin with morels

gelonch: codfish & codfish stomach


Wagyu beef 40 hour stew, beet lactose, and salsify in watercress

gelonch: wagyu


Suckling pig 24 hours sous vide, sunchoke cream, cashews, and croissant

gelonch: suckling pig


Assorted fruit cocktails: orange Campari, apple Grey Goose, watermelon gin tonic, pineapple-coconut rum

gelonch: fruit cocktails


Balearic Islands: sobrasada air cake, ensaimada ice cream, cheese cream, and Soller tangerine coulis



Summer truffle ganache, matcha tea cake, chocolate ice cream, and caramelized pistachio

gelonch: ganache, green tea cake, chocolate

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tomato & Sumac Cookie With Olive Oil Powder

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of tomatoes.  They’re just something that may never grow on me.  I even found the tomato dish at Alinea hard to swallow.  However, when I do find something that I actually enjoy that has tomato in it, I tend to really like.


In fact, my favorite soup of all time is my mom’s Vietnamese tomato soup (bun rieu).  Another tomato-based soup that I’m fond of is salmorejo.  Think of it as a thicker version of gazpacho.  While in Spain, it was interesting to see that salmorejo was a lot more common than gazpacho on menus in the regions we visited.

A bowl of salmorejo was just what I needed a couple weeks ago when the weather reached 100 degrees.  The acidity of the tomatoes and vinegar combined with the coldness of the soup was very refreshing.  It was so refreshing that I wondered if I could emulate that satisfying feeling with a cookie.

The idea for a salmorejo cookie eventually devolved into a simple tomato cookie.  I omitted the jamon so the cookie could be vegetarian-friendly and left out the egg as I felt a cookie is pretty rich to begin with.  Another tweak I made was to substitute sumac for vinegar in order to add tartness without adding liquid.


One ingredient from salmorejo I wasn’t willing to part with, though, was olive oil.  At the same time, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice butter for olive oil in the cookie dough.  As a compromise, I made an olive oil powder to top the cookie by combining Spanish olive oil with tapioca maltodextrin.  The result was a powder that turns back into a liquid once it hits moisture (saliva).

If I could do a salmorejo-inspired cookie again, I’d probably serve it frozen or add some peppermint extract to the dough (or perhaps both for an elBulli Mint Pond sensation) to add that extra layer of refreshment found in a cold soup.

Tomato Cookie

Mise En Place

  1. Follow M.E.P. for the Momofuku Milk Bar corn cookie with the following substitutions and additions
  2. Corn flour => flour
  3. Freeze-dried corn powder => dried tomato powder
  4. 45 g dried tomato bits (about 1 cm by 0.5 cm)
  5. 30 g sumac


  1. Follow method for the Momofuku Milk Bar corn cookie with the following additions
  2. Add sumac and tomato bits with dried tomato powder

Friday, June 29, 2012


Seaweed, dried longan, lotus seed – Inspired by Vietnamese che sam bo luong


Earlier this year, I went on somewhat of a cookbook shopping spree.  White Heat, The Fat Duck Cookbook, Heston Blumenthal at Home, The Flavor Bible, Ideas in Food, and Momofuku were all purchased in the same week.  One book that stood head and shoulders above the rest, however, was Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi.  Momofuku Milk Bar is bakery with a handful of locations in New York City and are known for their quirky pastries like the compost cookie: chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, graham crumbs, pretzels, potato chips, oats, and coffee grounds.


Oatmeal, pandan, raisins – Inspired by the groats I made one time


What really got me hooked on the book was Tosi’s electric personality that comes through in the stories and anecdotes she tells as well as in the recipes.  On top of that, the recipes are some of the most well thought out and detailed recipes I’ve come across.  It’s one of the only cookbooks I’ve read cover to cover and it’s probably my favorite cookbook.


Peanut butter, celery seed, olives – Inspired by ants on a log and a dessert I had at DiverXO


Once I finished reading the book, I made it a goal to bake all the cookie recipes minus the holiday cookie since Christmas had passed and minus the oat cookie because I was planning on using it for crack pie.  That amounted to one cookie recipe per week for 8 weeks.  After 8 consecutive weeks, I met my goal, learning a lot of things on the way through trial and error and via Tweet with Tosi Fridays.  I couldn’t just stop at 8, though.


Black sesame, white sesame crunch, miso – Inspired by a course I had at Next: elBulli


On week 9, I started making my own cookies based on the ratios found in the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook but with ingredients and flavors that were near and dear to my heart.  It’s now week 18 and I’ve managed to come up with the 10 cookies you see here.  The tentative plan for the week 19 cookie is an homage to Schwa, where I recently had the best meal of my life: dried shrimp and Fruity Pebbles or celery root, celery seed, and green apple.


Vietnamese dried banana, coconut, chocolate crumb – Inspired by Vietnamese banh chuoi



Chocolate, preserved kumquat



Chocolate, milk crumb



Corn, coconut, sesame seed – Inspired by Vietnamese che bap



Dried mango, milk crumb



Dried persimmon, milk crumb


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Schwa: 6-21-12

If you don’t know about Schwa, this GQ article is great, and the Wikipedia articles on chef/proprietor Michael Carlson and his restaurant are surprisingly detailed.  One thing that the GQ article nails is Carlson’s generosity and kindness.  From the time we walked through the doors, we were treated like old friends despite having never dined there before.

Before I had time to say a single word or sit down, Carlson said “Hey what’s up, man?  Brian, right?” and gave me a hug (no high fives allowed at Schwa).  Going to Schwa was like going to a dinner party thrown by your best friend who happens to be a world class cook.  We were eating some of the best food I’d ever had (I’d put it at #2 behind DiverXO) in the most unpretentious, casual, and fun setting.

They traded jokes and stories with us.  They donned luchador masks at one point.  They blasted the Notorious B.I.G., Michael Jackson, and other great classics over the sound system.  They brought us back to hang out with them in the kitchen.  They shared some of their wine and beer with us.  They started a strobe light dance party.  It was surreal.  As an entire package, the meal at Schwa was the best meal of my life by a large margin.

Many of the dishes had flavor combinations that sounded odd but worked so beautifully.  Other dishes were fantastic riffs on classics.  In all cases, the creativity, thought, and care that went into each dish was of the highest level.

Chocolate Cherry Manhattan – The amuse.  What looked like a chocolate-covered maraschino cherry was actually cherry-flavored chocolate.  The faux cherry swam in little pool of cocktail.

Orange Coriander Soda – This served as a chaser to the Manhattan.  It was very refreshing and aromatic.

Pig Face Cassoulet Salad – The salad course.  I found it pretty hilarious that Schwa took a rich, heavy casserole and made it into a salad course.  Despite being called a salad, there weren’t that many greens on the plate.  It consisted primarily of beans, so perhaps the “salad” descriptor was meant to convey that it was a bean salad.  Regardless, I didn’t find this dish as heavy as traditional cassoulet and the pig face was very flavorful.

Baked Potato Soup – The soup course.  This was described as an homage to the Wendy’s baked potato bar.  The potato formed the base of the soup and was garnished with a chive puree, bacon, bacon puree, sour cream, truffle, and a long strip of amazing gooey choose from Utah.  It tasted like the greatest baked potato ever and reminded me of the “hot potato, cold potato” dish at Alinea.

Quail Egg Ravioli – An extra course.  Somewhat of a Schwa signature dish.  A perfectly cooked ravioli filled with a runny quail egg yolk.  The ravioli was glazed with butter, herbs, and I believe truffle oil.  Rich, velvety, buttery, earthy.

Celery Root Tortellini with Celery, Green Apple, & Truffle – The pasta course.  This was my favorite dish of the night.  It was also the most interesting dish of the night in terms of flavor combinations.  The celery and green apple went so well together while the truffle added a big savory note.  The tortellini were served atop a green apple reduction.  The green apple reduction was perfect because it was a great substitute for something like tomato sauce: both are acidic and sweet.  The reduction reminded me of Spaghetti-O’s sauce.  I should note that I love Spaghetti-O’s.

Fruit Loops – The roe course.  Blis steelhead roe with passion fruit gelee, pickled papaya, and violet foam.  Yes, it smelled and tasted like fruit loops with roe.  No, it was not gross.  It was amazing.  When I stopped to think about the combination, I wondered why I’d never seen something like this before because it makes complete sense.  The tartness and sweetness from the passion fruit work as a great foil to the saltiness and brininess of the roe.

Oyster with Oatmeal – An extra course.  Carlson invited us back into the tiny kitchen to chat while he prepared this dish.  The oatmeal sort of looked like vomit, but that didn’t matter at all because the single bite of oyster with a bit of oatmeal and some type of fruit was outstanding.  There was a great contrast between the briny and earthy flavors.

Salmon with Pink Lemonade, Grapefruit & Truffle - The fish course.  Sous vide salmon with (if I recall correctly) a pink lemonade gelee, candied grapefruit rind, and truffle.  Nothing wrong with the dish, but nothing too exciting either.  It boiled down to a well cooked piece of fish with some citrus.

Curry-Crusted Foie Gras with Kumquat – The offal course.  Foie gras was shaped into a small ball and coated with an intensely aromatic curry powder.  I can’t remember how the kumquat was prepared, but I’m guessing a jam or puree.  The foie gras and kumquat combination I immediately understood, but the addition of curry is why the guys at Schwa are geniuses and I’m not.  It just worked.  After much pondering, I came to the conclusion that kumquat and curry went well together because coriander and citrus are a natural pairing.  Coriander is in curry powder and kumquat is a citrus.

Pheasant with Popcorn & Bourbon – The meat course.  Confit pheasant leg and roasted pheasant breast served over a popcorn/bourbon sauce topped with popcorn and popcorn foam.  I understood the pheasant and bourbon pairing after having bourbon chicken countless times at mall food courts, and the combination of popcorn and bourbon almost reminded me of caramel popcorn.  This was an interesting dish and no doubt tasty, but I wasn’t wowed like I was with most of the other dishes.

Rice Krispies Treat with Horchata – An extra course.  As far as I could tell, a traditional preparation of a Rice Krispies treat. It may have had spices such as cinnamon to compliment the excellent horchata, but I honestly can’t remember.  Much later, I realized how natural it was to pair a Rice Krispies treat with horchata: both are made from rice.  Much, much later, I learned the Rice Krispies treat was made from dried parsnip flakes and the horchata from parsnip milk.  The fact they were able to get the texture of a Rice Krispies treat from parsnip was very neat.  I typically love desserts that feature root vegetables, and learning that this was parsnip-centric dessert made me love Schwa even more.

French Onion Soup – The cheese course.  Imagine a lollipop where instead of hard candy there’s a pie crust.  Inside the pie crust were caramelized onions and cheese.  It tasted like French onion soup in pie form.

Dr. Pepper – The dessert course.  Dr. Pepper was deconstructed into a dessert consisting of some type of ice cream, vanilla foam, carbonated prune, prune puree, cherry sauce, a short bread cookie, and other things I can’t recall.  When eaten all together it tasted like Dr. Pepper.  How could I tell?  Because they served it with a glass of Dr. Pepper.

Hoosier Mama Chocolate Chess Pie – An extra “course.”  During the middle of service, a delivery from Hoosier Mama Pie Company arrived for the kitchen.  At some point during the meal, Carlson brought one of the pies out and plopped it down on the vacant table next to us and commanded that we eat the pie made by what he described as the best pie makers in the world.  I trusted his expert opinion.  After finishing the Dr. Pepper, we went to work on the pie.  As I said, Michael Carlson is a very generous person.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Banh Chung

Recently, I learned eating banh chung is a traditionally eaten during the Lunar New Year.  Previously, banh chung was simply something my Vietnamese grandma would always make around the holiday season and sometimes during other parts of the year.  No matter the occasion or time of year, though, I could never get enough of her banh chung.


Her version is a vegetarian one: glutinous rice and mung bean wrapped in banana leaves.  Personally I don’t mind the lack of meat because for me it’s all about the rice.  When you boil glutinous rice for several hours as you do for banh chung, it takes on a unique texture when you eat it at room temperature and the aroma of the leaves comes through.  The texture is almost between that of onigiri and mochi.  Slightly chewy but yielding.


The texture can take on a drastically different profile when the banh chung is flattened and fried in a pan until golden brown.  In this form, the texture is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  After going back and forth between which preparation I prefer most year after year, I recently came to the conclusion that I prefer the non-fried version.  I find that frying the banh chung kills the subtle flavors of the rice and leaves.


So for my banh chung, I eat it at room temperature.  This time around, I filled mine with leftover pork rillettes from CharcutePalooza that I had in the freezer, and instead of wrapping the banh chung in banana leaves I used lotus leaves simply because that’s what I had in my pantry.

Banh Chung (makes about 3 individual servings)

Mise En Place

  1. 200 g glutinous rice, soaked overnight in water and a few drops of pandan extract
  2. 200 g mung beans, soaked overnight in water
  3. 200 g pork rillettes or some other protein
  4. 3 lotus leaves or banana leaves, soaked in warm water
  5. Fish sauce

Method (for 1 individual serving)

  1. Drain mung beans and place in a pot with enough water to cover.  Simmer until tender and mash, about 25 minutes.  Season with fish sauce and pepper.
  2. Drain rice and season with fish sauce.
  3. Fold the leaf in half so it is doubled.
  4. Place 1/6th of the rice in the middle of a leaf in the shape of a rectangle.
  5. Place 1/3rd of the protein on top of the rice.
  6. Place 1/3rd of the mung beans on top of the rice.
  7. Place 1/6th of the rice on top of the mung beans.
  8. Shape into a rectangle by hand and wrap tightly with twine.
  9. Wrap again in foil
  10. Place in simmering water, weighted down, for about 6 hours.